Halley’s Comet will once again grace us with a stellar performance as debris from its tail streaks across the night sky in the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Pieces of the icy comet break off as it nears earth and they burn up as they enter our atmosphere, making them visible to those below.
This year’s show will last about a week, centered around May 7th, although peak expectations according to Bill Cooke, the lead at NASA’s meteoroid Environmental Office will be Wednesday through Thursday morning, in most areas, with viewers being able to expect as many as 30 meteors per hour at its peak.
Although a large waning gibbous moon may obscure a part of the shower, which could prevent this year’s shower from being as spectacular as in years past, it may very well be worth setting your alarm. Hailey’s comet, which makes this shower possible is only visible to us every 76 years, with the next viewing set to arrive in the middle of 2061.
Streamed live on May 5, 2014 On the night of May 5th, Slooh will broadcast the live coverage of the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower. Coverage will begin on Monday, May 5th. Viewers can watch free on Slooh.com. The live image stream from upstate New York will be accompanied by expert audio from Slooh Astronomer Bob Berman.
Shower watchers can expect the best show possible between 2am and 3am, if they gaze somewhat away from the radiant constellation Aquarius. Looking away from the center of the shower, allows the longer trails to become more visible. A typical Aquarid moves at approximately 44 miles (66 kilometers) per second, according to NASA. Aquarius is observed at these coordinates:
- Right ascension: 23 hours
- Declination: -15 degrees
- Latitude: Between 65 and -90 degrees
“For most observers, the Eta Aquarids are only visible during the last couple hours before the start of morning twilight,” stated the American Meteor Society. “The reason for this is that the radiant is situated approximately 60 degrees west of the sun. Therefore, it rises before the sun in the morning hours.”
Most Northern Hemisphere observers will get mixed results with the shower, more of a “hit or miss” type scenario, with those south of the equator reporting a much better showing.